[Keywords: British in Manila, British in the Philippines, Batangas, Lipa, Captain Thomas Backhouse, Seven Years’ War, Galleon Philipino, Batangas in the 18th Century]For a 20-month period between 1762 and 1764, the Philippine Islands were technically under British rule even if the effective territory covered was really just Manila and the Province of Cavite. That the British were in the country at all in a brief interlude was really just a spillover of the Seven Years’ War that was being fought in Europe that same century1.
The British did venture into Batangas to chase after supposed treasures from the galleon Philipino, and these were part of the indemnity that the Spaniards owed them as contained in the terms of the latter’s surrender. In truth, they were being led on something of a wild-goose chase.
|British troops in the Philippines. Image source: Ayala Museum.|
[More details of the arrival of the British in the Philippines in the 18th century and the ensuing treasure chase in Batangas are given in this article: British Troops Chase after Treasures in 18th Century Batangas.]A letter dated 22 April 1763 and written by Captain Thomas Backhouse, who had been sent to lead British troops into Batangas in search of the Philipino’s treasures, gives us further details about the movements of these troops into the towns of Lipa and Batangas.
The British were somewhere in Laguna when Backhouse received intelligence that “a party of soldiers and sailors consisting of 150 men had taken post at Lipa with six small cannons” and that they had “under their care 30 chests of treasure (and) a large quantity of ammunition, arms and military stores…2” Presumably, the “party of soldiers and sailors” were Spaniards and Filipinos who refused to acknowledge British rule in the country.
Backhouse, who wrote that he was at that time “at the Baths,” ordered 50 Europeans and 50 Sepoys3 to get themselves ready “to attempt stopping the progress of such a formidable supply…” Presumably, “at the Baths” meant that the British were in Los Baños or its vicinity.
With the help of local guides, Backhouse and his troops travelled to St. Paublo (likely San Pablo) presumably to intercept the Spanish soldiers, whom the intelligence reported were on their way to Mahahoy (likely the present-day town of Majayjay). At San Paublo, the British however received further intelligence that the Spanish soldiers had not set out from the town of Lipa, after all.
Because of this new piece of information, the British made haste for Lipa, passing through “rivers which are the strongest” and navigating “the most difficult passes in the world.” Nonetheless, Backhouse found the countryside “fine, open, rich and beautiful” although the heat, he wrote, “exceeded my calculation.” Backhouse himself was mounted on a buffalo (likely a carabao) which the “the good people of the country brought in…”
Before long, the British were within sight of the convent at Lipa. The pueblo was already in its present day location, having been forced farther inland in 1756 from present-day Balete by Taal Volcano’s continuous activity. When they were within a mile from the convent, the Spanish guards stationed there let loose from two guns. This, remarked Backhouse wryly, “proved a cure to the sick, the lame and tired…”
Stunned into action, Backhouse and 20 of his men rushed toward “the cowardly dogs on the side of a river or rather precipice” (the Sabang area?) but the men with the guns “leaped down” and presumably scampered away. They gave chase and came upon ammunition that had been left behind, “but the money was gone…”
The Spanish troops had apparently been forewarned from San Paublo. The man who brought the warning was captured by the British and hanged the next day.
On 16 April, wrote Backhouse, he received intelligence that the treasure was stashed away in a house somewhere in the country. Upon reaching the house, however, the British were disappointed to find that there was nobody inside and, moreover, no treasure either. They returned back to the convent in Lipa.
Backhouse suspected that the treasure had been spirited away to Batangas, which he described as “a regular fort of 4 bastions; the wall good and lately built; the church and convent are taken into this fortification…” He wrote that he was determined “to take the place if I can” and that he had “laid my plan and left an officer and 60 men within a day’s march of it. He himself had marched to the town from Lipa and found the road “very good which gave me great pleasure…”
His suspicion that the treasure was in Batangas came from information supposedly “squeezed by bribery” from a witness who had sailed on the galleon Philipino. This witness had presumably seen not just the treasure but also ammunition brought to Batangas on board champans4.
Backhouse described the treasure and ammunitions this way:
”…consisted of 10 chests, 3,000 dollars in each, three chests of powder (probably gunpowder), a large quantity of balls (probably musket balls) and a number of small arms, exclusive of those which the soldiers and sailors had…”In time, Backhouse would get word that the treasure had been smuggled away to somewhere in Pampanga. Because of this, he would put an end to his Batangas sojourn and lead his troops back to their station in Pasig5.
Outside of treasure hunting, Backhouse also provided valuable insights about the countryside in Batangas. He described the land between San Paublo and Lipa as “far exceeds anything I ever beheld…” The inhabitants “are dispersed over it” and lived in “pretty neat houses amongst their wheat…” (He probably thought of the rice as wheat).
The people, he wrote, “seemed to be of a different nature to what you have about Manilha (Manila).” He even added, “Indeed, their looks are much better.” 😉 Although he acknowledged that water was “a scarce article at this season of the year (it being April),” men, women and children “flocked out with bamboos6 full for my men…”
Backhouse also wrote that “provisions of every kind are plenty and cheap at Lipa” and that four chickens could be bought for as cheap as one real7. Because the three Augustine churches in Lipa were empty and the Prior of Lipa had stripped each church of everything, he also had to eat “off plantain (a type of banana) leaves for want of plates…”
Notes and references:
1 “British Occupation of Manila,” Wikipedia.
2 Along with most of the details of this article, taken from “Records of Fort St. George, Manilha Consultations Volume 5,” published in Madras, India in 1940.
3 “Sepoys” were Indian soldiers under the employ of the British East India Company.
4 What Backhouse called the “champan” was probably the “sampan,” a flat-bottomed wooden Chinese boat. Wikipedia.
5 “The Philippine Islands,” by John Foreman, Third Edition, published in 1906.
6 Bamboo tubes, called the “bumbong” even in the present day, were used for holding and transporting water not just in Batangas but probably elsewhere in the Philippines.
7 A “real” was a Spanish currency unit. Wikipedia.